Short Term Lets Control Area Approved in Edinburgh

City of Edinburgh Council has become the first local authority in Scotland to form a short term let control area following Scottish Ministers’ approval of the proposal on the 1st August. The ‘control area’ will require planning permission to be obtained for the Change of Use of an entire dwelling, that is not somebody’s principal residence, to a short-term let. This is intended to restrict the ability for property owners to convert their residential properties to ‘Airbnb’ style holiday lets in areas of high housing pressure.

The powers to implement such control areas were enshrined in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, and the Scottish Government previously ran a consultation on the proposals in September/October 2020. The Government’s approval of City of Edinburgh Council’s proposed control area is the first such approval in Scotland, and may encourage other local authorities to follow suit.

The powers to create a control area require this to be geographically defined. In City of Edinburgh’s case, this covers the entire Council area so any instance of an entire dwelling being used as a short-term let property anywhere within the Council boundary will automatically require planning permission. Where a change of a dwellinghouse to a short-term let has already taken place before the implementation of the control area, the existing planning rules will apply.

The control area is not a ban on new short-term lets, but requires these to obtain planning permission, allowing Council planners to review each proposal and determine what is an appropriate use as a short-term let, and where these should go. The plans were positively received by Edinburgh residents during an earlier consultation on the proposal, where 88% of around 5,600 respondents indicated support for the scheme.

Housing Secretary Shona Robison said “Edinburgh was the first local authority in Scotland to propose a Short-Term Let Control Area and Scottish Government approval represents a major step forward. We have committed to give local authorities the powers to address concerns about the impact of commercial short-term letting in their communities, should they want to do that. This is an example of that local choice in action – supported by the majority of respondents to the council’s consultation on the proposed designation.

“I recognise the important role which short-term lets play as a source of flexible and responsive accommodation for tourists and workers, which brings many benefits to hosts, visitors and our economy. However, we know that in certain areas, particularly tourist hot spots, high numbers of lets can cause problems for neighbours and make it harder for people to find homes to live in.”

City of Edinburgh Council Leader Cammy Day said “This is the news we have been waiting for after leading the way in campaigning for change. I am delighted that Ministers have answered our calls and we look forward to reviewing the full details included in the decision released today.

“It paves the way for Edinburgh becoming the first short-term let control area in Scotland. For far too long, too many homes have been lost in our city to the holiday market. In fact, around a third of all short term lets in Scotland are here in the Capital, so their associated issues of safety, anti-social behaviour and noise have a detrimental effect on many of our residents. We will now progress implementing the changes and the next step should be looking at whether we can apply a cap on numbers, too.”

However, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers have criticised the proposal. Fiona Campbell, Chief Executive of the industry body, said “The ASSC are extremely disappointed that the Scottish Government have chosen to approve City of Edinburgh Council’s proposed city-wide short-term let control area. Our members in the capital, who help to generate more than £70m each year, will be rightly concerned about what this means for their livelihood in what is already a challenging regulatory and economic environment.”

“Self-catering properties have been a longstanding presence in Edinburgh for decades, providing a vital source of alternative accommodation during major events. It is therefore somewhat ironic that this news comes in the same week that many Festival performers and visitors will be arriving in the city.”

“We believe that a city-wide control area is wholly disproportionate. As we have warned, the Council’s unevidenced plans are seriously deficient and will simply drive many small businesses to close without achieving their policy objective, as well as damaging Edinburgh’s position as a world leading Festival city.”

The Council intends to bring the control area into force in September 2022, once requisite legal notice has been given. City of Edinburgh Council is also currently consulting on separate proposals for the licensing of short-term lets, following the Scottish Government passing relevant legislation earlier this year requiring operators of such short-term lets to obtain a license to operate as such.